Not many people concerned about Halkhoria Jungle had ever heard about the plans to build a 4-line hyper-modern highway between Kathmandu and Nijgadh. The plan was actually started by another Government, and long-long ago: in 1992. The idea was to make the 175 km long way that currently people have to cover between the two cities, traveling through Hetauda and Pattlaiya, in just 76 km, shortening the way by 4 hours.
When I lived in Halkhoria and its surrounding villages in 2011, visiting, among others, also Nijgadh, I was always surprised at the big board on the left, a few meters before reaching Nijgadh, with an English writing “FAST TRACK”. I asked people what this should mean, as I did not see any particular construction, road or civilization (workers, for example) behind that board. There was a dust path, like many similar others in the jungle, only… But I forgot about this board, and remembered it again only when much later years I read about it in the news.
The plan had been assessed and discussed among politicians and potential investors so long, that finally, when the Government had chosen an Indian company with an interest (practically a leasing fee) which would force a high highway toll fee, a study had shown that it would be so costly for local Nepalis (about 4000 rps), that the majority could hardly afford to pay for it anyway, and would choose the cheaper plane between Kathmandu and Simra (which, to compete with the virtual Fast-Track Highway, even recently lowered the price of its flights). It is obvious that buses operating on a 4000 rps toll-fee would also have tickets much more expensive than the Hetauda-Patthlaiya long way, which can be bargained down to even 600-700 rps, by locals…
A detailed history of all the proposals of investors and refusals from the Government concerning the Kathmandu-Nijgadh Fast-Track, and a professional opinion can be read here: www.spotlightnepal.com/News/Article/Kathmandu-Terai-Fast-Track
Thus, as many similar projects where big money is involved, the Fast-Track became the slowest track possible, in Nepal. Its twin-project, the Nijgadh airport (Second International Airport – SIA) is planned to be shaved out of the Khat-Ghat holy jungle (holy because an important Hindu Temple Complex in its middle, which is also the traditional destination for Bara District “Bol Bam” pilgrims every year in the Nepali Shrawan month!) . The two projects (still half-started only) are in a symbiosis: without the SIA the Fast-Track would be not so commercially rewarding for the investor, and without the Fast-Track the giant airport can hardly be even built, and the expected passengers would feel it uncomfortable to travel 176 km to Kathmandu from this “end of the world” airport in the Terai jungle. (It is interesting to note that practically every city in Nepal has started work on its “own” international airport and locals would swear that it will be builtin their city and nowhere else: Pokhara is seriously planning and started tobuild,and Butwal citizens also are convinced that it will be built in Butwal…So is this is a sign of a chaotic planning, or a sign of a few people getting advantages for extracting money for projects which are never going to be realized?).
Yet both projects in Nijgadh are going through constant difficulties, because of the inability to make an agreement between the Government and the companies who are willing to invest. There can be various rational and irrational fears on the side of Nepali politicians that the foreign companies could misuse their investment for controlling of Nepal’s infrastructure, as Nepalese are recalling unfortunate contracts between Nepal and other states in the past. Yet the latest company in the row, which is interested, wants a guarantee of revenue. I am not sure if guarantee is possible in such an instable country as Nepal is currently, and even instable land (prone to natural disasters). The discussions are thus endless and the outcome, until now, zero…
Currently, the decision about Fast-Track is put on hold: http://myrepublica.com/economy/story/27535/ministry-told-to-put-fast-track-work-on-hold.html
BAD NEWS FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT, GOOD NEWS FOR NATURE
In a way this is all good news for those who love nature, wish to protect Nepal’s jungles, authentic village life, the purity of rivers and springs, the hundreds of bird species, tigers, wild elephants, bears, deer, snakes etc. who all live in that very jungle which is planned to be cut out in big. This would happen in case of the SIA would be started. Concerning the Fast-Track highway, obviously already its construction requires heavy machinery, cutting out many trees (PART OF IT HAD BEEN ALREADY DONE, SEE MY ARTICLE ABOUT THE NIJGADH AIRPORT), disturbing the habitat of many animals. The Fast-Track would cut through (literarily) beautiful hillside- and further on Terai (flat-land) jungles, and would end in Nijgadh.
I myself and many of my friends had seen tigers, deer, wild elephants and leopards in the jungle at Nijgadh jungles. The current narrow roads in the area do not allow cars to drive at extreme speed, neither trucks or buses (although they often do, to the horror of passers by). It is rare that they would kill wild animals passing through the road. Yet a highway with compulsory high-speed around 160-200 in a country which is so rich in wildlife, is a very unwise choice: dangerous for traffic as well as the animals, which are, among the mountains, one of the main attractions of the country for visitors.
Experiences with similar (and not even 4-lane!) highways cutting through natural reservations and jungles in India are a warning example:
Above image: Dailymail.co.uk in its article “Killer highway: Wildlife death toll on Bandipura park nears a century” shows dozens of wild animals killed by speedy trucks on the highway of Bandipura National Park, India.
Above image: Dailymail.co.uk in its article “Rajasthan forest authority up in arms as highway authority plans…” shows how tigers from the reservation’s jungles often cross asphalt roads and can be hit by fast cars.
When speaking with locals years ago, I have learned that they would be happy if they had an airport and a highway in the “end-of-the-world” wild area. The area is inhabited originally by the genetically malaria-immune Tharus, yet after malaria was eradicated, Paharis (Pahadis) – hill-people – arrived, which belong to different ethnic and religious groups. Yet until now (the 2015 Madesh Andolan) the various ethnicities lived alongside each-other in peace. But later on Bihari Indians started to look for better living conditions on the Nepali side as well. They are called Madeshis in this part of Nepal. There are but quite a big numbers of Bahuns (Brahmins), Chetris, and Mongolian castes from the hills (Tamang as most, Gurung, Magar next), and obviously these families are still traveling back to their “original homes” in the hills, often describing it as an idealized “heaven” with cool weather, fresh air, pure cold drinking water (in contrast to the hot Terai). For these Paharis it is important to have a good road to visit their old parents, or just to visit Kathmandu. The “heaven home” of Madeshis is, on the other hand, India, which is just behind the corner here, yet in the recent years Madeshis also found work in northern parts of Nepal, especially in construction.
A good road is currently a big dream of local young people, who wish to live a modern life, amongst the lush wild jungles, into which their grandmothers and mothers still go for firewood, along rivers in which people fish with big nets holding them all day long in lines… They dream about airplanes humming above their heads, rather than colorful red and green singing birds, toucans, owls, eagles, cheerful parrots and rainbow-colored mega-butterflies, like it is still now… For these people “modernity” is not the green grass that their black buffaloes can freely eat in the endless jungles and meadows, but rather the chicken farms (broilers) where the white chicken is locked up and smelling for far…
Things like ecology or alternative lifestyle, are a next step after prosperity, and the prosperity-dream can hardly be skipped. Nepalis must probably get first “overeaten” by commercialism, consumerism and illusionary prosperity of asphalt, concrete, smog, stress… to be able to get disilussioned and tired of this “Western Lifestyle” and turn back to their origins, a natural and healthy life. This is a long process. They should have the right to decide, its their land. They had “encroached” it so long ago (about 50-70 years) that it became like theirs (“like theirs”, because in reality jungles never belong to people, they belong to animals and plants). How will they decide? For the jungle and its holy temples, or the airport and its twin-sister Fast-Track?
Below: The Reality.
It is difficult to judge for those who had never tried how hard is life in a Nepali village. Where the hot is extremely hot and the cold is extremely cold, and no matter what is the weather, people must go for water in the morning, go for firewood to the jungles, go to cut leaves and grass for their animals… Yet I have tried both, and I know that they would regret.
Nepalis still do not understand that mega-constructions from concrete, noisy truck fuming black clouds of smog, are not a guarantee of their prosperity and happiness. India has currently very modern and wide highways and bridges, yet the slums along them are the same poor slums as before, or maybe even poorer, as they had lost their green grass, forests, pure drinking water springs, purity of rivers, because of those mega-highways on which only the rich can afford to travel. They have lost their village way of life, and a high-speed highway cannot provide them with earnings which would substitute for the lost fileds, greenery, jungles.
Thus it is all right that the politicians in Nepal cannot agree about any of the two mega-projects, which would actually destroy Halkhoria Jungle’s (and Bara and Parsa Jungles’) wider area. It is the self-defense of Nature, which is so much exploited in neighboring Asian countries, while Nepal is still covered with many jungles.
Above: the map of the planned Fast-Track. Fast-Track is in red, and the existing 18km Nijgadh-Patthlaiya road is pink.North from this existing road (part of East-West Highway) is Halkhoria Jungle with its surrounding dense jungles on both sides. South of the existing Nijgadh-Pattlaiya road are also patches of jungles, though more inhabited by settlements and villages than the northern side. The biggest patch is actually opposite the Halkhoria Jungle, and is called Khat-Ghat, after the Shiva Temple in its middle. It is there that the Government of Nepal plans to build an international airport. Source: www.spotlightnepal.com/News/Article/Kathmandu-Terai-Fast-Track